Four Finalists Interviewed For Superintendent
By: Alex Scofield
Four finalists for the position of Sandwich schools superintendent were interviewed by the Sandwich School Committee on Monday and Tuesday night.
An 11-member superintendent search committee reviewed 21 applications for the superintendent position, and met nine of the applicants for preliminary interviews earlier this month. From that nine, the screening committee chose four finalists to be interviewed in public sessions at the Sandwich High School library.
During the course of the 75-minute interviews, each candidate had the opportunity to make an opening statement and a closing statement. In-between, each of the seven school committee members asked the candidate two questions. In addition to making a closing statement, each candidate had the opportunity to ask committee members questions at the end of his session.
A summary of each candidate’s interview follows, in the order in which they were interviewed:
Education: University of Dayton, bachelor of science, 1983
Framingham State, master of arts, 1989
Nova Southeastern University, doctor of education, 2002
Current position: Principal, F.L. Olmsted School, Easton, since 1999
On management: Dr. Mazzola described a Red Card/Green Card activity that he does with staff. On a green index card, everybody lists three things they want to happen. On a red index card, everybody lists up to three things that they want to stop, that they think is hurting the school culture, or is hurting them in their professional efforts at becoming better teachers. Participants do not need to put their names on the cards.
Dr. Mazzola believes this activity conveys a message that he is listening to staff members, he cares about them, and wants to do well by them. “Sometimes it’s those things that happened in the past that we really have to resolve in order to move forward,” Dr. Mazzola said. “Sometimes we get stuck in the past.”
“You have a lot going on here, and I think a lot of change makes people nervous,” Dr. Mazzola said. “I take things from step one and work through it [and] make sure that things are going to work well.”
Top-down implementation of curriculum changes is not sound strategy, Dr. Mazzola said; people on all levels want to feel part of the process. Successful curricular implementation in his school districts succeeded because teachers were involved, he said.
On superintendent/school committee relations: Dr. Mazzola described a decision by the Easton school committee to assign students to schools by lottery, instead of by residential district. It was a contentious decision, Dr. Mazzola said, and there were “Parents Against Randomization” groups.
In that situation, Dr. Mazzola said, his job as the administrator was to support the school committee’s decision. Administrative teams held coffee hours and educated the public on the procedure and the reasoning behind it. “It’s worked really nicely,” Dr. Mazzola said, and he believes it was in part because he supported the school committee’s policy.
On budgeting: Dr. Mazzola said he would base budgetary priorities on measurable educational objectives. All principals in the Easton system participate in the budgetary process, Dr. Mazzola said. “There’s a lot of give-and-take, push-and-shove.”
On curriculum: Dr. Mazzola said he implemented Everyday Math at his school, and he took pride in having done so. As Sandwich superintendent, he said, he would look at how to sustain the literacy program, which he said would require ongoing training, monitoring, and coaching. “That’s going to require some expertise on how to retain that,” Dr. Mazzola said.
As for aligning the Sandwich curriculum with the Common Core standards in the near future, Dr. Mazzola said the district was way ahead, and the process “will be seamless.”
On Sandwich schools: Dr. Mazzola stressed how impressed he was by Sandwich schools’ collective embrace of technology. He had never seen technological use at Sandwich’s level, he said.
“I saw a lot of happy teachers, and happy teachers make happy kids,” Dr. Mazzola said on his visit to Sandwich schools on Monday.
Charles R. Canfield
Education: Springfield College, bachelor of science, 1969
University of Bridgeport, master of science, 1974
St. John’s University, doctor of education, 2006
Current position: Assistant superintendent, Monroe Public Schools, Connecticut, since 2001
On management: Dr. Canfield said that when he became a high school dean after nearly a decade of teaching, he pledged that he would always be a teacher first. Twenty years later, when he moved to an administrative position at the Monroe, Connecticut, school system, he pledged that he would never forget what it is like to be a principal. “Things can change on a dime,” Dr. Canfield said.
Education often becomes emotional, Dr. Canfield said, especially when parents feel their children will be impacted negatively by their schools. Dr. Canfield said he tries to not connect with the emotion, but instead to be a stabilizing force.
When implementing new programs, Dr. Canfield said, it comes down to an ability to establish relationships of trust with people. There can always be pushback against an administrator who seeks to implement new programs, and it is important to “give people confidence that there really is no hidden agenda there,” Dr. Canfield said.
On superintendent/school committee relations: Dr. Canfield said that his entry plan would include forging a strong relationship with the school committee. He said he was aware that each member comes with his or her heart in the right place, and his or her own vision of what the community needs from its schools.
On budgeting: Dr. Canfield said that his district, which is comparable in size to Sandwich, has not passed a school budget on the first vote in more than 20 years. The challenge, he said, is to make a very complex operation transparent, and this comes from forging good relationships with the community’s leaders.
A key to the budgetary process, said Dr. Canfield, is taking the previous year’s budget, and then looking over every line item with the system’s administrators.
On curriculum: Dr. Canfield chairs his school system’s curriculum council, and he said he is proud of his experience in curriculum mapping. “We’ve been very responsive to what teachers need,” he said. Standards-based curricula also force administrators to look at the details of what every student is expected to know.
Dr. Canfield said he was impressed with the curriculum currently in place at Sandwich schools, and he specifically praised the Capstone program at Sandwich High School. “There should be no mistake on the part of the community here… It really is an excellent school district,” Dr. Canfield said.
On Sandwich schools:
Dr. Canfield visited Sandwich’s schools and met their principals on Monday. Although the visit was “sort of a rush,” Dr. Canfield said he is a keen observer who is trained in three different walk-through models.
“I can’t say enough about the leadership I met in terms of the principals,” Dr. Canfield said. He added that he met many teachers who take evident pride in their teaching and their schools, and Sandwich’s students “present themselves with such confidence.”
Dr. Canfield concluded by saying he learned what Blue Knight Pride was the day he visited. Sandwich High School had accomplished the elusive feat of making a mission statement that had meaning for community members. “Especially because it was students who described for me what it meant to them,” Dr. Canfield said.
Education: City University of New York, Brooklyn College, bachelor of science, 1983
Harvard University, master of education, 1990
Harvard University, certificate of advanced studies, 2007
Current position: District coordinator for research, testing, and assessment, Lowell Public Schools since 2001
On management: Good leaders, Mr. Schlichtman said, make it safe for others to bring problems to them. He would want principals to not hold back out of fear that the superintendent does not like their opinions or the news they bring. “You need to be able to feel secure enough to come to me and tell those stories,” Mr. Schlichtman said.
On superintendent/school committee relations: Mr. Schlichtman described a time when he was in the minority of a 16-member committee on school choice. At one point, he looked at the envelope enclosing an informational packet a fellow committee member had received, and observed that the postage was a different amount from the postage on the envelope he received. “I wasn’t getting all the information that the other members were getting,” Mr. Schlichtman said. He promised he would never give committee members such treatment, no matter what their stance was, and he would do everything he could to facilitate their decision-making process. “If one member asks for something, you’re all getting it,” Mr. Schlichtman said.
In a similar vein, Mr. Schlictman also pledged he would not surprise school committee members with douments and papers that they had not had time to prepare for. In turn, he said, he would count on the same respect from the committee.
On budgeting: Mr. Schlichtman said he has never been the one person responsible for developing a school system’s budget, but he has sat on committees that were responsible for doing so. At Lowell, he said, he looks at specific parts of the school system’s budget, particularly high school staffing. Mr. Schlichtman said during a budget-cutting process, he had to determine how many students were on the caseload for each teacher, and he had to look at a disparity between the caseloads for high school and middle school teachers when it was time for budget-cutting. The only way to successfully move forward in the budgetary process, Mr. Schlichtman said, is to be transparent with the school committee.
On curriculum: Mr. Schlichtman described changing a rigid set of requirements that prevented many students from taking advanced courses. Previously, he said, “We were turning away kids from high achievement because the adults were setting up boundaries, and we can’t do that.”
Mr. Schlichtman said he was proud of “tearing down barriers for kids who want to achieve.”
On Sandwich schools: “You have a lot to be proud of,” Mr. Schlichtman said. He praised what he saw as a very strong literacy program. “You’ve got a good, solid curriculum,” Mr. Schlichtman said.
Matthew J. Bridges
Education: Bridgewater State College, bachelor of science, 1983
Bridgewater State College, master of school administration, 1989
Current position: Administrator of pupil personnel services, Sandwich Public Schools, since 2010; previously principal, Henry T. Wing School, 1994-2010
On management: Mr. Bridges said that he had a collaborative approach, and pointed to his tenure as Wing School principal. Staff members would push back at him at times when he pushed them, Mr. Bridges said, and he welcomed that. He said he tried to foster an atmosphere of teaching high accountability and rigor, “with no place for complacency.”
On superintendent/school committee relations: “I think we are at a very important time,” Mr. Bridges said. If he were chosen as superintendent, he said, he would want to have a retreat with the school committee. Among the focus issues of the retreat would be how the superintendent and committee members treat one another and communicate with one another. He hoped they could return with a unified front.
On budgeting: Mr. Bridges said that having never been superintendent, he has not been solely in charge of developing a districtwide budget, but that as a longtime administrator, he views budgeting as one of his biggest strengths. When building a budget, Mr. Bridges said, the most important part is determining what part of the budget is non-negotiable. He took pride in the fact that Sandwich has managed to avoid eliminating programs during difficult fiscal times.
On curriculum: As Wing School principal, Mr. Bridges said, he was not the district’s ultimate leader on curriculum, but he was nonetheless “at the grassroots of” implementing the district’s literacy initiative. He said he wanted to make sure that the literacy initiative became part of Wing School’s philosophy. He said he brought in ideas to support this, such as writing celebration walks, in which staff members in groups observed levels of student writing throughout the school.
Mr. Bridges said his priorities would include updating report cards to reflect the district’s literacy initiative, and the science curriculum for the K-8 schools. After implementing so many new curricular initiatives, Mr. Bridges said, he believes school staff members “need to take a deep breath… We’ve asked for a lot of change over the last couple of years.”
On Sandwich schools: “This place is in my blood,” said Mr. Bridges, a 1979 graduate of Sandwich High School. He became emotional in describing the current morale in town. “You hear my voice quaver,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here tonight if I didn’t think this morale could turn around. …I know I could do that.”
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